- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2016

After 94 years of solemnly watching over the National Mall, Abraham Lincoln is going to get a face-lift.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced Monday that the Lincoln Memorial will be renovated and expanded, courtesy of an $18.5 million gift from D.C. businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein.

“President Lincoln held our country together. This is an important symbol of what he did,” Mr. Rubenstein told The Washington Times. “Hopefully, this will help people better understand Lincoln’s leadership during a trying time. We can learn from our successes and our mistakes.”

The project will take about four years to complete and will encompass cleaning and repairing the damaged marble masonry as well as creating a 15,000-square-foot education center below the monument to replace the current 800-square-foot facility, said Sean Kennealy, acting deputy superintendent for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

The monument, which receives about 7 million visitors a year, will remain at least partly open throughout the duration of its biggest renovation since it was opened in 1922, officials said.

The new education center will sit about 55 feet directly below the 175 ton statue of Lincoln in the monument’s chamber. Currently, that area is a large empty space with massive columns that drive down into the bedrock and support the structure. The National Park Service plans to keep those columns exposed to showcase graffiti left by the workers who built the monument from 1914 to 1922. The columns feature caricatures of President Taft and architect Henry Bacon, who designed the neoclassical memorial.

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Two large murals in the memorial called “Reunion” and “Emancipation” also will be cleaned and restored. Created by American muralist Jules Guerin, the paintings were made with a mixture of pigments, kerosene and wax to provide protection from the elements. But nearly 100 years of fluctuating temperatures have taken their toll on the massive murals.

It’s not just the most noticeable attractions that are being spruced up. Even the old, tiny restrooms are getting a makeover.

“The least we could have is a decent bathroom,” Mr. Kennealy said. “It’s the little things, too.”

The Rubenstein donation will be granted through the National Park Foundation, the fundraising arm of the National Park Service. The park service is expected to spend about $6 million of its own money.

The renovation is one of several funded by Mr. Rubenstein in recent years, including $7.5 million for the restoration of the Washington Monument after the 2011 earthquake.

Ms. Jewell, the interior secretary, said the National Park Service is in desperate need of the donation.

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Budget constraints have forced the park service to defer $12 billion worth of maintenance to parks, monuments and infrastructure across the country. About $800 million of maintenance is unfunded for monuments on the Mall, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, Mr. Kennealy said.

“From my office I’ve watched the roof of the Jefferson Memorial get browner and browner,” Ms. Jewell said.

For the Lincoln Memorial, the National Park Service has deferred about $20 million in maintenance. In fiscal 2015, Congress’ allocated maintenance budget for the landmark was $490,000.

Though Mr. Rubenstein’s $18.5 million donation is significant, it makes only a dent in the upkeep needed on the Mall, which about 25 million people a year visit, Mr. Kennealy said.

Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, said every dollar donated counts when restoring monuments to American history — and maybe Mr. Rubenstein’s gift will encourage others to give.

“Protecting treasured places and saving history, his actions serve as a guiding light inspiring others to do the same as we move into the next century,” Mr. Shafroth said.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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